AS dairy farmers until last Christmas, Lelio - better known as Bruno - and Annette Italiano, Sandlewood Farms, Harvey, knew calm, contented cows gave more milk.
Since Christmas they have proved calm, contented cows also produce better eating quality meat.
For their efforts transitioning from dairy farmers to quality beef producers, the Italianos were last week named winners of the 2019 Meat Standards Australia (MSA) Excellence in Eating Quality Progress Award for WA.
They have been using the MSA compliance program and carcase feedback it provides as a guide for their transition and to improve the quality of the beef they produce on their 520 hectare former dairy farm.
Their Holstein dairy herd has been replaced by 550-600 first and second-cross Black Angus and some purebred Angus, with a herd nucleus of about 150 breeders.
They turn off about 130 cattle to Harvey Beef and Western Meat Packers and aim to achieve a live weight of about 400 kilograms.
"We're just starting to maximise our beef production and we're trying to run a few heifers now so we can sell heifers to other breeders," Mr Italiano said.
Their cattle are weaned at about nine months and fed quality home-grown hay and some grain before being finished on fresh rotated pastures and hay.
They are all accustomed to being handled - the two keys to producing quality beef according to the Italianos are quality feed and cattle unafraid of human interaction.
"He has always been very good with his grass and with his cattle," said Ms Italiano of her husband.
"We've been putting a beef bull over our dairy (Holstein) heifers for years, but it's taken us three years to get to this point.
"We're still transitioning," she said.
Fresh pastures, home-grown hay and plenty of quiet handling was also the recipe employed by Derek and Beth Dilkes, Catterick near Bridgetown.
Former dairy farmers like the Italianos, the Dilkes have been MSA beef producers for the past 14 years.
They run about 80 Angus breeders on two nearby properties totalling about 120ha and last week won the Most Outstanding MSA Beef Producer (band two) award which recognises producers turning off smaller MSA consignment volumes from a non-feedlot accredited operation.
Their win was based on an MSA compliance rate of 96.5 per cent and average MSA index of 67.21 - a weighted average between 30 and 80 predicted eating quality across 39 cuts in the carcase.
Mr Dilkes said theirs was a small, simple operation.
"We calve the cows down in January so by the time winter comes along, the calves have all been marked and vaccinated and then our aim is to get them up to market weight at the end of spring and sell them," Mr Dilkes said.
"What gets to market weight at the end of spring we sell to local meat processors for MSA and what doesn't get up to weight we sell at the saleyards as weaners or stores.
"Our aim is to have all the calves off the farm by the end of the year and to have at least 75pc of our calves go for MSA grading."
Some of the better heifers are retained as replacement breeders and they grow their own hay and oversow pasture paddocks with oats and ryegrass.
"We're running a closed herd, so the animals get used to running as a mob, they stick together and I move among them a lot," Mr Dilkes said.
"We rotate them through the paddocks so they're always going on to fresh pasture, I just open the gate and call them.
"We don't use motorbikes or dogs, simply because we don't need to."
Wayne and Carol Dumbrell, Walpole, won the Most Outstanding MSA Beef Producer (band one) award.
It recognises non-feedlot producers turning off larger MSA consignment volumes.
The Dumbrells run 220 Angus-Friesian cross, Murray Grey-Friesian cross and second-cross cows on 260ha and have supplied high-quality milk-fed vealers to Woolworths for the past 15 years.
They turn off animals at about 10 months and target a carcase weight of 240kg, using MSA grading and individual carcase feedback to help fine tune the veal they produce.
"When Carol and I started out, we were fortunate in that we inherited a strong cow base from Carol's parents, which probably put us ahead of the curve from the outset," Mr Dumbrell said.
"From there, the MSA grading system and individual feedback it provides has allowed us to continuously improve what we're doing, by tracking the progeny of individual cows and bulls and their performance.
"We typically run our cows in mobs of 40 and a month before selling we'll draft them on size and weight to make sure they're happy and settled in their mobs before we truck them out."
The 2019 MSA Excellence in Eating Quality Award for Most Outstanding Feedlot in WA went to WestBeef Holdings' feedlot at Kalannie.
Cattle from feedlots accredited under the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme and that were eligible for Australian Grainfed Standards were included in this award category.
Low-stress handling techniques combined with customised nutritional programs led to WestBeef's high MSA compliance of 99.5pc and average MSA index of 61.47.
Those figures mean WestBeef consistently met MSA requirements of carcases having a meat pH below 5.71 and a minimum of three millimetres of rib fat with adequate fat distribution over the entire carcase.
Set up on 1030ha, WestBeef's feedlot is licensed for up to 7500 head and has 900ha of farming and backgrounding country.
It turns off up to 5000 head of the company's own mainly British and European breed cattle and clients' cattle for MSA grading annually, with the cattle processed at various facilities.
WestBeef grows its own hay and sources wheat, barley and lupins from surrounding farms to provide the most cost-effective megajoules possible in its stock ration.
Feedlot manager Dale Ure said every animal was treated the same with low-stress handling and high standards of animal welfare.
"Everyone on the husbandry team has received low-stress stock handling training and all of our yards and handling systems have been designed with low-stress stock handling in mind," Mr Ure said.
"The infrastructure is designed so you can move cattle without having to be in close proximity to them, so you're not putting them under stress.
"You can easily run cattle through the yards with just two people," he said.
The 2019 MSA Excellence in Eating Quality Awards for WA were presented at a function hosted by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), at the Eden Grove community precinct, Harvey, last Thursday.
The WA awards are part of a national awards system launched in 2015 and presented every second year to recognise beef producers who achieved outstanding compliance rates to MSA specifications, as well as high eating quality performance represented by MSA index results for MSA graded cattle.
The 2019 awards were based on compliance and index results during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 financial years.
MSA program manager Sarah Strachan said producers were to be congratulated for their commitment to producing beef that consistently achieved exceptional compliance rates to strict specifications and delivered a superior eating experience to consumers.
"MSA-registered producers receive ongoing feedback on their livestock, accessible through myMSA, to help them continuously improve the performance of their cattle and eating quality," Ms Strachan said.
"All of the winners and finalists are taking notice of that feedback to achieve results."
Ms Strachan said the myMSA portal also gave producers the ability to benchmark their performance against other producers in the State and use tools to calculate how they can improve their MSA Index by making on-farm changes.
"This year's winners won their awards from a field comprising 2000 registered producers in WA who consigned cattle during 2017-19," she said.
"Throughout Australia, more than 15,000 producers consigned over 6.6 million cattle to the MSA program throughout the 2017-19 period," she said.